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Page last updated at 06:47 GMT, Monday, 21 April 2008 07:47 UK

Snooker's Chinese revolution

Ding Junhui
Sporting icon Ding Junhui is surrounded at the China Open training camp WORLD SNOOKER CHAMPIONSHIP
Sat 19 April to Mon 5 May Venue: Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
Coverage: Watch live on BBC One, BBC Two, BBCi and the BBC Sport website; listen on BBC Radio 5 Live

By Saj Chowdhury

A Hollywood movie star, red carpet for the competitors and a lavish opening ceremony?

The event in question was not this year's Super Bowl, but April's China Open.

Yes, snooker went big time last month - Beijing style.

The ranking event was treated to an opening ceremony at the Water Cube Olympic venue, where the players were paraded like Oscar nominees.

Jet Li, Ding Junhui and Graeme Dott
Jet Li (far left) and Dott (right) share the stage at the China Open

And inside, among the press throng, the 2007 China Open champion Graeme Dott and homegrown superstar Ding Junhui were sharing a laugh and a joke with Hollywood martial arts star Jet Li.

Ding was also mobbed for autographs at a special snooker training camp for children.

In China, snooker is second only to basketball in the nation's sporting affections, and the country is intent on stamping its own mark on a game that has long been the understated preserve of Britain and Ireland.

That popularity has been propelled in no small measure by the emergence of Ding, who started the season ranked 27 in the world but is now established in the top 10.

Who's to say we won't see eight players from China at The Crucible in the future

Steve Davis
The 21-year-old has already won three ranking tournaments including the sport's second biggest, the UK Championship, and his triumph in the 2005 China Open was watched by an estimated 110m in his homeland.

In recent seasons, he and 30-year-old Marco Fu of Hong Kong, who won the 2007 Grand Prix, have led the South Asian contingent, but this year the pair have been joined by two more Chinese at The Crucible - Liu Chuang and Liang Wenbo.

It is the first time a country outside the British Isles has been represented by that number of players.

Six-time world champion and BBC analyst Steve Davis believes that figure will grow in the next few years.

"Seeing four or so Chinese players in ranking events will soon become a common trend," Davis told BBC Sport.

"Liu Chuang and Liang Wenbo have done well in the qualifiers and who's to say we won't see eight players from China at The Crucible in the future.


"The sporting mentality over there has always been to work very hard and if players show promise then they will get support from the government.

"That will have a positive knock-on effect for snooker because China will want to host more events."

Approximately 50m people play snooker in China and in Beijing alone there are 300 venues.

With statistics like that, Davis's prediction is not outlandish.

I think the public would like to see the World Championship in China one day

Journalist Li Li, Xinhua News Agency

Li Li, a journalist for China's Xinhua News Agency, says snooker is playing second fiddle to the Olympics at the moment, but that the interest is still feverish.

"Snooker is in first place among the non-Olympic sports," she told BBC Sport.

"I know Chinese businesses are interested in sponsoring events and I know the public want to see more hosted in their country.

"I think they would also like to see the World Championship in China one day."

A few years ago that suggestion might have been greeted with bemusement, and a fair degree of derision.

But with World Snooker's deal with hosts Crucible Theatre set to end in 2010, the sport's governing body may consider taking advantage of the new fanbase by relocating the calendar showpiece.

Snooker is enjoying a mini revival, following a stale period towards the end of the last decade, with innovations like the Premier League and Championship League proving a hit with players and fans.

And if the growth in China continues apace, the sport can look forward to a very healthy global future.

see also
World Championship draw
14 Apr 08 |  Snooker
World Championship latest
15 Apr 08 |  Snooker
Snooker on the BBC
07 Apr 08 |  Snooker
Crucible champions
14 Apr 08 |  Snooker
China in Ding's hands
22 Jan 07 |  Snooker
Ding beats Davis to win UK title
18 Dec 05 |  Snooker
Chan and Li top at US box office
21 Apr 08 |  Entertainment

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